An Apology and Eight Other Things
I believe Amelia Greenhall’s statement about her experiences co-founding Model View Culture with Shanley Kane.
In the past, I have encouraged uncritical public support of Shanley as a tool of solidarity: as a tool to mitigate the abuse she faces, as a repudiation of tone policing, as a recognition that tech feminism needs a diversity of tactics for a diversity of goals. I have also been consistently uncritical in my public support of MVC, even after Shanley began to erase Amelia. In doing so, I have been complicit in Amelia’s erasure and have helped create an environment that made it difficult for her to come forward. Amelia, if you are reading this, I personally apologize for doing so.
The rest of this essay gets more complex. I wanted to put the apology first, so that if Amelia did decide to read it she wouldn’t need to dig for my apology.
I believe that Model View Culture has been invaluable as both a resource and an institution. I believe that it has been invaluable to both marginalized people in tech and the broader tech community. I am grateful to both Amelia and Shanley for its existence.
I have written three essays for MVC — two for the online edition and one for the print edition. They’re some of my best work, and on topics I care passionately about. All have reached an audience that I could not reach on my own. I see my work on consent culture and UX cited all over the place, and the underlying ideas are now an integral part of conversations around the Web’s ethical future. I am personally grateful to both Amelia and Shanley for their editorial work on the UX piece, and for their work amplifying its reach.
While my later two pieces were written after Amelia left the magazine, I nonetheless still credit them both with the impact those two pieces had — or may potentially have, in the case of the article released yesterday. Amelia’s work on MVC’s structure and business model is part of its success. Her contributions were indelible, integral, and permanent. She deserves public credit for them and so I am making damn sure right now to make my gratitude public.
Founder erasure is a feminist issue. Women and minority co-founders are disproportionately undercredited. They are robbed of power within the companies they found. They are robbed of stock options and other monetary rewards for the risk and work of founding a business. During acquihires, they are disproportionately likely to be the one person who’s left out of a job.
I believe Shanley Kane’s statement about her experiences with harassment in recent weeks, including the portions where she holds herself accountable for prior complicity and participation in racist, abusive, and other oppressive acts. I respect her public rejection of easy redemption narratives.
Accountability requires other people. It doesn’t require the vast public. When I harm someone, I am first accountable to the person directly harmed. I am next accountable to those I have indirectly harmed within our community. I don’t know who Shanley “should" be accountable to, here, other than Amelia. I do know, though, that if you haven’t been standing in community with either or both of them then you are not on that list.
People can’t be cleanly divided into “abusers” and “good people.” Abuse is a behavior pattern. Some people are taught it by seeing it done to others. Others are taught it when it is done to them.
When you’ve been traumatized by abuse — when you’ve witnessed that behavior pattern, when it’s changed you — it becomes part of your toolbox. It becomes part of you, whether you consent to this or not. It becomes a learned survival response, and an easy one to reach for under stress. Using this survival response is a choice. People who do are responsible for that. But it is never a free choice.
One tragedy of surviving abuse is that the potential to commit it will forever lurk in your hindbrain. One tragedy of activism is that most marginalized people have been abused. Empathy for survivors requires an acceptance of the pain and rage and shitty thought-patterns that accompany trauma. Activist movements must allow space for the ugly parts of the healing process and also keep others safe from them. It’s a narrow path between Scylla and Charybdis and mostly we fall into the whirlpool.
I do not believe a single word Andrew Aurenheimer has said other than the things that Shanley has confirmed about their relationship. This is weev we’re talking about, for fuck’s sake. I’m sure he’s laughing at the “lulz” and “drama” of tech feminists’ pain and doubt being spilled all over the internet right now and while I thank Amelia for coming forward it makes me sick to know that weev probably calls that “winning.” I don’t know how to make him not “win" but let’s fucking find out, guys, because fuck him.
I have long believed that nuance was impossible in public discussions of tech feminism. We stand on toxic ground and I have long believed that expressing any public doubts or criticisms would open people to harm, would provide a lever that people would use to call me “the reasonable one,” would provide an excuse to dismiss valuable work as “unreasonable” in contrast. I still believe these things.
This belief has forced me to conflate “solidarity” and “groupthink,” which is dangerous. It’s forced me to paint the world in black and white, a lot of the time. It’s felt weird. I see the world in greys.
In coming forward, Amelia Greenhall calls for a path of greys — for a path where we acknowledge that people can do good work and also do harm, for a path of nuance, for a path where respectful disagreements are possible.
I like the world that she wants a lot. I’ve risked writing a piece that’s all nuance because I want it to exist.